Personnel: Pat Metheny (acoustic guitar, electric guitar); Chris Potter (bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Ben Williams (acoustic bass); Antonio Sanchez (drums).
Audio Mixer: Pete Karam.
Recording information: Avatar Studios, New York, NY (02/2012).
Photographer: Jack Vartoogian.
On Unity Band, Pat Metheny reveals that he can look in two directions at once. The group he's assembled here is an all-star ensemble. Drummer Antonio Sanchez has been with him for a decade, while double bassist Ben Williams makes his first appearance with the guitarist, as does tenor saxophonist Chris Potter (whose soprano and bass clarinet playing are on display, too). Metheny makes full use of this ensemble's possibilities. That said, he looks back through his catalog and composes for this band from some of the information gleaned there. One can recall the swirling melodic euphoria of the Pat Metheny Group in the guitar and guitar-synth interplay in "Roofdogs." On the ingenious "Come and See," Metheny's many-stringed Picasso guitar meets Potter's bass clarinet to create a tonal inquiry before Williams and Sanchez establish a deep blue groove. When Potter adds his tenor and Metheny his electric, we get a Latinized swinging pulse that is ever so slightly reminiscent of the 80/81 band with Michael Brecker and Dewey Redman (this isn't the only place that happens here). Fans of Metheny's more abundantly lyrical side will appreciate the breezy sway of "Leaving Town," though its melody -- twinned by his guitar and Potter -- is full of compelling tight turns, before the rhythm section evokes a deep, swinging blues and the guitarist gets refreshingly funky in his solo. On "Signals" Metheny uses his Orchestrion and guitar with live loops; the band employs live loops throughout the intro on top. Potter's tenor solo is emotive, grainy, and reaching, while the atmosphere recalls -- only generally -- the album the guitarist cut with Steve Reich. The nocturnal, smoky "Then and Now" has a torch ballad quality due to Potter's utterly songlike solo. Set closer "Breakdealer" begins at the boiling point and gets hotter. The title hints at what Sanchez does throughout the tune while pushing forward, but Williams not only keeps up, he adds propulsive shades of his own and rocks the arpeggiated changes fluidly. Metheny and Potter are free to sprint and they do; both dazzle with their lyric invention and knotty, imaginative, nearly boppish solos. The two front-line players are surely at their best in one another's company on the date; you expect them to be. Yet it's the rhythm section that astonishes thoroughly. Their interplay is not only intuitive, it's informative; it points to new corners for Metheny and Potter to explore. Given the guitarist's more compositional solo experiments of the last few years -- all of which have been very satisfying -- Unity Band is a return to what he does best: composing for, and playing with, a band of top-shelf players. ~ Thom Jurek
Mojo (Publisher) (p.94) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "UNITY BAND is now a scintillating platform for Metheny's fretboard wizardry. 'New Year' is an elegant opener while 'Signals' has a freer, more experimental vibe."
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